Managing National Security Information as an Enterprise

By Ronald D. Elliott

National security services of our Federal Government are complementary and mutually dependent, relying upon each other for information and supporting services. In essence we rely upon a national security enterprise of the Federal Government, though infrequently managed as a single enterprise.

What better time than the dawn of a new millennium to take a fresh look at this enterprise: to assess the importance of information and information technology to the enterprise in decades ahead; and to reconsider the manner in which investments of our tax dollars are managed to provide the "information dominance" envisioned by the previous Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the goal of our national security enterprise?

The 21st Century, an era to be characterized by its exploitation of information technology and the energy of light to serve man and further enable him to dominate his environment may well become known as the era of new enlightenment. However, we must first take an enlightened view of our challenge as a nation to be one of management, less than one of discovering new technology. Indeed, we must better manage technology and the information it makes available to us. We must acknowledge that more and more technology, like more and more information, will not necessarily enable us to fulfill our vision or realize our dreams. We must never expect that computers (including things called "knobots," robots or "automated intelligence") to solve our problems or make our dreams come true. Both computers and the information they contain or exchange are valuable only to the extent they can be effectively used by humans to extend their knowledge and interrelationships to synergistically expand our capacities as individuals, organizations and nations.

Thus, when we contemplate the great investments being made by our government (with our money) to obtain more and more technology to hoard more and more information, we must cast a critical eye to the value we as a nation realize from those investments and those efforts. As an example, consider the Department of Defense, composed of many separate enterprises called Military Departments, Agencies and Commands. These component organizations spend tens of billions of dollars on computers, communications and related information technologies. It's difficult to identify any weapons and supporting equipment that do not contain or rely upon information technology and information storage repositories or services.

Indeed, there's no doubt that our defense forces will have more information than they can be expected to effectively manage. But, since there is infinite information to be available, it is difficult to imagine how one can dominate the world's supply of it. What we really need is to dominate the activities and processes important to our national security and welfare. This can be accomplished partly by providing our decision-makers the knowledge needed to optimize their performance of those activities and processes to achieve an advantage relative to any competitor or adversary.

Solely increasing the supply of information to those involved will not necessarily provide that critical knowledge. To effectively increase knowledge, one must provide information in a timely manner, in the format and context of the situation and other information available to the decision-maker. Information must be managed and disseminated/exchanged in an organized and productive manner as an integrated enterprise. Therein, lies our major national security challenge in years ahead.

To adequately respond to that challenge, our national security enterprise must manage not only the technology it obtains, interconnects and integrates to facilitate efficient information exchange, it must also manage the information itself and the manner in which it is collected, processed, exchanged and displayed to decision-makers (machines or people).

This enterprise management of information and information technology is not now in place in the DoD. Instead, the individual components jealously guard their prerogatives and accept controls, architectures and management schema of others only when forced to do so. It's time this stopped. It's time our national security apparatus recognized its collective role as an enterprise, agreed upon a strategic plan by which to fulfill its missions and the knowledge needed by functional process performers to implement that plan. Only then can an appropriate management structure and responsibilities be cost-effectively provided to ensure the right information and technology is obtained, assembled and applied to deliver that knowledge. Further the security of the supporting infrastructure and services can thereby be assured.

Only then will our taxpayer dollars be effectively applied to enable the national security capabilities to be needed in the new millennium to protect our national sanctuary from threats unimaginable as we evolve from the mere dawning of the information revolution of the 20th Century.